Sunday, July 21, 2013

Roasted Tiny Eggplant with Muhammara and Feta


I'm not much for babies. While other people ooh and coo over tiny bundles of chubby thighs and drooling, toothless mouths, I usually want to run the other way. I've learned to plaster on a smile and cry "oh, how cute!!!" But I'm sure the parents see right through my act, and, deep down, feel just as perplexed as I do when a guest fails to acknowledge that my cat is the most adorable precious thing on the planet. 


Weirdos.


Anyway, baby vegetables are another story. Tiny vegetables will reduce me to a baby-talking fool if I'm not careful.


This was nearly the case yesterday, when Jay and I stopped by my favorite place in the whole world: the Everett Family Farm Stand located near Santa Cruz. The self-serve haven brims with organic produce worthy of the hippest San Francisco farmer's market, minus the swarms of cut-throat, basket-swinging, elbow-jabbing market-goers.


We usually have the whole glorious stand to ourselves, but yesterday a trio of farmsters pulled up and began to unload crates of shiny, just-picked zucchini, squash, and eggplant. When I saw the pint baskets of tiny, purple-speckled fairytale eggplant, I almost died.

The manager saw me eying them. "Aren't they great? I just roast them whole. They're so sweet." 

"Oh my GOD! Look how PRETTY they are! They're PURPLE! They're so cute I can hardly STAND IT! I'll take them ALL! Who's the cutest little eggplant? Who?!" was what I was thinking. 

Instead I summoned a nonchalant shrug. "Oh, nice. I guess I'll get some." 


I got the idea to slather the adorable nightshades with some sort of creamy red pepper sauce kissed with middle-eastern spices, something similar to romesco only punchier. It took a bit of researching before I found what I was looking for. Muhammara, a Syrian dip or spread, is usually made from roasted sweet peppers, walnuts, pomegranate molasses, and spices, and thickened with bread crumbs. I decided to forgo the crumbs in favor of a more drizzle-able sauce, and combined the flavorings from a few different recipes. Almonds seemed like a more amicable match with sometimes bitter eggplant than walnuts, so I used them instead. The resulting sauce tastes like everything: sweet with pomegranate molasses and peppers, musky from toasted cumin and smoked paprika, kicky with garlic and cayenne, bright with lemon.


The small eggplants needed only a five-minute stint in a hot oven to bronze their bottoms and soften their flesh. I arranged them on a platter and doused with muhammara, feta, parsley and almonds. We ate the first round with our hands. The second we enjoyed on a bed of lettuce (panisse and red romaine, also from Everett) dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I bet you could stick all of these in a pita half and call it lunch, too.


I still have quite a bit of muhammara left over, so I'd love suggestions for other things to do with it, if you've got any. My eye is on these grilled tofu vegetable kabobs, though I'm guessing it would make a killer marinade for chicken or lamb, too.


Adorable aubergines:
Baked Penne with Eggplant and Fontina 
Roasted Eggplant Parmesan
Smoky Baba Ganouj

One year ago:
Plum Biercake 
Two years ago:
Zucchini Pesto Lasagna 
Three years ago:
Tonic Water 
Apricot Cherry Clafoutis

Roasted Tiny Eggplant with Muhammara and Feta

For a more traditional muhammara, use walnuts in place of the almonds. You'll have extra muhammara left over; save the rest for another round of these, or use it as a dip or spread for flatbread or crackers. Heidi writes beautifully about muhammara here. If you don't have pomegranate molasses on hand, I think this dip would still be tasty without it. (Just don't substitute regular molasses, which has a totally different flavor profile going on.) If you can't find tiny eggplant, make this with Japanese eggplant, or globe eggplant cut into rounds and salted to sweat out any bitterness. Feel free to throw the oiled eggplant on a grill if you prefer it to the oven.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Muhammara (makes 1 cup):
2 medium-sized red bell peppers
1 teaspoon cumin seed 
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 medium garlic cloves
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

The eggplant:
1 pint basket tiny eggplants, such as Fairytale (10 ounces)
olive oil
salt
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
handful parsley leaves, washed and torn
handful toasted sliced almonds
lemon juice

Make the muhammara:
Roast the bell peppers over an open, medium-low flame, turning frequently, until blackened and blistered all over, 5-10 minutes. Set aside to let cool. When cool, peel off the skin and discard. Slice the peppers open over a bowl to catch their juice, and remove and discard the seeds and stems. Place the walls in the body of a food processor. Reserve the juice.

Toast the cumin in a dry skillet set over a medium flame, shuffling the pan frequently, until the cumin is fragrant, a minute or so. Let cool, then grind finely in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Add to the food processor, along with the almonds, garlic, paprika, salt, cayenne and pomegranate molasses. Process the mixture until silky smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the reserved pepper juice and the smaller amount of lemon juice, blend, then drizzle in the olive oil with the motor running. Taste the muhammara, adding more lemon or cayenne if you like. 

Store the muhammara in a jar in the refrigerator. It should keep for at least a week or two. 

Prepare the eggplant:
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 475ºF. 
Rinse and dry the eggplants, then slice each in half lengthwise, leaving the stem in tact. Lay the eggplant halves on a small (quarter), rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with enough olive oil to coat them lightly, and toss with a few pinches of salt. Arrange the eggplant halves cut side down. Roast until the bottoms are golden the eggplant is tender. Mine took only 5-7 minutes, but the time will vary depending on their size, so check them frequently.

Use a thin, metal spatula to remove the eggplant halves from the oven. Place them cut-side up on a platter. Spoon a bit of muhammara over each half, sprinkle with feta crumbles, sliced almonds, and torn parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature. I find it easiest to eat these out of hand, but do leave behind the inedible stems.

28 comments:

  1. The muhammara looks delicious and lol @ your comment about babies versus cats!!

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  2. the little eggplants are too cute!! Love the way you prepared them, I'm sure it was the perfect combination with the muhammara! Love it!!
    xox Amy

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  3. I have not ventured over to Everett Family Farmstand for since spring. I can see it is time for a trip to Santa Cruz! The baby eggplants are adorable and served with the spicy muhammara are a tempting summer dinner!

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    1. Do it! They've got some amazing stuff in, including padron peppers. We're about to devour the last of our stash. :)

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  4. Oh man, these guys sound so good. EGGPLANT!

    I would probably end up eating a bunch of the leftover muhammara on open-faced sandwiches with a little salty white cheese on top, blistered quickly under the broiler. Those tofu kabobs sound great too!

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    1. I'm glad to know someone else who's as enthusiastic about eggplant as I am! Great idea about the sandwiches - I'm totally having that for lunch. :)

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  5. I am soooo with you on the attitude towards babies and baby vegetables! :)

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    1. Yay! Thanks for being in solidarity, Steph. Makes me feel like less of a misanthropic freak. :)

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  6. Well, I haven't heard of muhammara until today but it sounds delicious! I'd eat that on sautéed zucchini any day. And, I don't know, YOU were much cuter than a baby eggplant so I guess I'll have to go with babies! :)

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    1. Haha! Thanks, Mom. Muhammara on sauteed zucchini sounds delicious! I put it on roasted potatoes yesterday, and that was super good, too. Thanks for the sweet note. :)

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  7. Gorgeous. Last time I made something like this (ajvar, similar concept), I ended up eating it from the jar.

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  8. I reacted the same way the first time I saw fairytale eggplants (that's what they call them here, but cute name eh?)! But I don't think I was able to hide it very well. I'm not exactly the model urbanite. (Don't get me started on how much I love babies! But only to play with for like a minute. Definitely not ready to go there yet.)

    These eggplants are so picture-perfect I don't know if I could eat them. I have that problem with pretty produce, but I'm glad you don't, because this dish looks so good!! The muhammara sounds delicious. I've always been a huge fan of well-rounded flavors - a little sweet, a little musky, a little kicky. :) I bet it would make a terrific marinade. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks, Linda! I'm glad I'm not the only one who freaks out about cute vegetables. I knew if I didn't do something with the fairytales right away, I would end up cooing over them until they were wrinkled and sad, and they'd end up in the compost and Jay would never let me hear the end of it. ;) I think you would dig the muhammara - it's gotten tastier every day as the flavors have melded.

      I actually really admire people who are good with babies - I just don't know what to DO with them. I'd take a kitten over a human baby any day - at least I know what they like. :)

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  9. Such a beautiful recipe! I am allergic to almonds (a new development that is extremely depressing). Do you think I could substitute pine nuts?

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    1. What a drag - I'm sorry to hear that! I think pine nuts would work just fine here, and walnuts are the traditional nut in muhammara. Let me know how it goes. :)

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  10. This looks SO lovely, Alanna! I love the mini eggplants and can't wait to try making your Muhammara. I am a HUGE hummus and Baba ghanoush fan so adding Muhammara to the mix will bring in a lovely (and I bet delicious) variety.

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    1. Thanks, Shelly. I do hope you like it!

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  11. Ooo, these tiny eggplants ar SO cute!! Haha, I totally would have done the same – keep my over excitement disguised. I'm so intrigued to try the muhammara, too! Never had it before but it sure looks delicious.

    Love your photos btw, they're beautiful and so creative!

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    1. Aw, thanks, Yvonne! I feel the same way about your photos and recipes. Muhammara is great - I'm only sorry it took me so long to discover it. Glad I'm not the only one rendered ridiculous around cute vegetables. :)

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    1. Cool - I'll check you guys out. Thanks for the invite!

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  13. Yes, we are so on the same page as cats vs. babies. I mean, all babies pretty much look the same, but how could a person NOT think that a furry little cat is cute, especially cats as cute as ours?? Madness.

    I don't know if I've ever seen baby eggplant at our market, but maybe I'm not looking hard enough! I can't think of a more perfect way to eat them then roasted up and covered in muhammara and feta. Yes yes yes.

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    1. Haha - total madness! This was my first experience with baby eggplant, too, and now I'm completely spoiled. :)

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  14. Finally a recipe from the garden and my garden is caught up. Can't wait to try this out with my burgeoning eggplant and bell pepper crop. AND I can backtrack to your pan bagnat since I have ripe tomatoes now, too. Next up: corn.

    Okay going to quit working for a while and hang out in the kitchen :) Let you know how it goes. Thanks Alanna for the beautiful inspiration with your pictures.

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    1. Hooray for your garden! You are very welcome - there's nothing I enjoy more. Thank you for reading, and please let me know how you like the recipes. :)

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